Peggy Noonan's latest column is an interview with Mitch McConnell, conducted on Wednesday. In the interview, McConnell says this:
"The most important election yesterday wasn't the governor of New Jersey and it wasn't the governor of Virginia, it was the special election for Congress in South Alabama, where a candidate who said the shutdown was a great idea, the president was born in Kenya, and that he opposed Speaker Boehner came in second." The victory of a more electable Republican, is significant, Mr. McConnell says. To govern, parties must win. To win, parties must "run candidates that don't scare the general public, [and] convey the impression that we could actually be responsible for governing, you can trust us -- we're adults here, we're grown-ups."But in her next paragraph, Noonan quotes McConnell saying something that contradicts that:
Republicans must enter the 2014 election cycle remembering the advice of William F. Buckley: "He always said he was for the most conservative candidate who could win."Um, Mitch? Those are two different things. In this environment, you violate your pledge to vote only for candidates who "convey the impression that we could actually be responsible for governing" if you vote for "the most conservative candidate who could win." Ted Cruz, obviously, "could win" -- he won. So did Mike Lee. Dean Young, the birther/shutdown fan who lost that special election in South Alabama, almost certainly would have won the general election that's going to take place in December because he'd be running against a Democrat and, well, it's Alabama. (Charlie Cook rates that district as R+14.) In Wingnuttistan, all sorts of crazy people "could win."
McConnell, of course, is happy about that Alabama result not in and of itself, but because it's a shot across the bow to people who support primary challenges in upcoming Senate races that could put Republicans on general-election ballots who might not win, which will decide whether McConnell leads the minority or the majority after 2014. That's what he cares about.
In that case, however, what he should say is that, in 2013, Buckley is wrong. But Buckley's line is still appealing to him. McConnell still embraces the notion of electing the most conservative candidates possible; it's just a pity that a few bad apples have made that strategy problematic.